Pioneer aviator Jerrie Cobb attended the Oklahoma College for Women -- now Science & Arts – for only a year. It was 1948. Today, after a 55-year career in aviation -- including dozens of top flying awards from around the world and a Nobel Peace Prize nomination -- former Chickasha resident Cobb was inducted Oct. 25, 2003, into the University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma Alumni Hall of Fame.
The possibilities for Jerrie Cobb were literally "sky high" when she left the campus of the Oklahoma College for Women in 1948. Flying has been her world and continues to be as she flies help and hope to primitive, isolated Indians throughout the South American Amazon. She has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian service in the most forbidding corner of the earth where man seldom survives beyond the age of 40.
In Oklahoma, Cobb was inducted in 1993 to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame as the "most outstanding aviatrix in America." In 1990, she was named to the Oklahoma Aviation and Space Hall of Fame. In 2000, she was named to the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame.
Cobb's selection to the Science & Arts Hall of Fame is fitting, says Science & Arts President John Feaver. "Jerrie's courage and leadership are reflective of the extraordinary talent nurtured by the Oklahoma College for Women. OCW instilled in women a core believe that they could go on to become anything they dreamed, whether astronaut, artist or homemaker. Their dreams were empowered by caring and capable faculty. And they emerged from this college with confidence they could make a difference in business, industry, politics, the arts, and their own families and communities. Today is no different. We celebrate Jerrie's amazing success. She is deserving."
In her twenties, Cobb set new world records for speed, distance, and absolute altitude. She was honored by the government of France. Her fellow airmen named her Pilot of the Year and awarded her the Amelia Earhart Gold Medal of Achievement. She was one of nine women selected by Life Magazine as the "100 Most Important Young People in the United States." The International Academy of Achievement named her a "Captain of Achievement."
Cobb was chosen as the first woman to undergo astronaut testing in 1959 in the infancy of the space age as America began selecting her first astronauts. She trained to become the first woman to fly in space. Further, she was the first and only woman to successfully pass all three phrases of Mercury astronaut tests. Promising her an early space flight, NASA appointed her as a consultant to the space program, but kept her grounded for three years when politics entered the space race. A few months after a Congressional hearing on women in space, Russia put the first woman in space.
Denied the opportunity to go into space, Jerrie turned her back on fame and fortune when she was 32. Her spiritual adventure led her to the Amazon jungle of South America where she delights in the challenge of flying over the enormous uncharted jungle, serving the indigenous peoples.
She has been honored by South American governments for pioneering new air routes across the Andes and in the Amazon jungle. The governments of Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, and Peru have feted Cobb for "humanitarian flying among the Amazon peoples." Even the government of France honored her for "outstanding flights serving isolated peoples." In 1979, she received the Bishop Wright Air Industry Award for "humanitarian contributions to modern aviation." President Nixon awarded her the Harmon Trophy as the top woman pilot in the world.
Cobb tried again to get her chance to go into space when astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn got his second opportunity in recent years. Again denied, the application received considerable attention. According to the Philadelphia Enquirer, "Jerrie Cobb owned four world aviation records. She had flown 64 types of aircraft, including a jet fighter. And she sailed through the grueling medical tests that involved swallowing a 3-foot rubber hose and being stuck with electric probes. Cobb, then 29, certainly seemed to measure up the likes of John Glenn and Scott Carpenter for a place among America's pioneering astronauts. She had the right stuff. But she was the wrong sex. If Glenn can make a second trip, Cobb should finally be allowed to make her first."
Her autobiography, "Jerrie Cobb: Solo Pilot," is available from the Jerrie Cobb Foundation website, www.jerrie-cobb-foundation.org. Created by friends of the famous flyer, the website is filled with pictures and details about the life of this pioneer. The site is maintained by Ruth Lummis of Sun City, Fla.
Cobb's story is larger than life, says editor Dena Hall, in the introduction to Cobb's autobiography. "This is a true love story … Jerrie Cobb falls in love when she climbs into the open cockpit of a 1936 Waco bi-wing airplane. She leaves the planet Earth for the first time and, in a way, forever, never looking back. She is 12 years old. Determined to devote her life to the sky, Jerrie enters the male domain of aviation by working at small country airports, where she learns the basics of flight and mechanics. She spends the summer of her 16th year barnstorming across the Great Plains in a circus Cub. At 19, she's teaching men to fly. By 21, she's delivering military bombers and fighters around the world, well on her way to becoming one of the world's top pilots…"
Cobb's life also was the subject of an earlier book, "Women in Space - The Jerrie Cobb Story - America's First Lady Astronaut." She is the subject of at least one chapter in five other books as well.